Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (2011)

Bloody Hell, as Ron Weasley might have said. Ten years, eight movies, four directors and a worldwide box-office gross of over six billion dollars and look where it’s taken us: full circle.

So, without further ado, now the conclusion…

With three Horcruxes down and just four to go, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) must pick up where he left off if he is to defeat Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) once and for all. Bartering with the goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis) – entry into Bellatrix Lestrange’s (Helena Bonham Carter) vault at Gringotts for the sword of Griffindor – Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) must utilise all they have learnt in order to make it past the extensive security. Recognising Voldemort’s presence in the cup of Hufflepuff, the trio are betrayed and left to make their own way out of the wizarding bank – swordless. Cue: dragon.

Parting ways with the Ukrainian Ironbelly, Harry’s connection with Voldemort indicates that the next Horcrux lies within the walls of Hogwarts. Assisted by Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, Harry, Ron and Hermione are shown the way back into the castle, lead through the secret passageway by none other than Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis). Identifying the remaining two Horcruxes as Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem and the Dark Lord’s pet snake Nagini as the remaining Horcruxes, the trio split up in search of both the diadem and a means to destroy it while the school’s staff, students and the Order of the Phoenix prepare Hogwarts for battle.

There will be some, the odd soul as yet uninitiated with J. K. Rowling’s celebrated source material, to whom the above might as well be conveyed in Parseltongue. All this talk of Horcruxes and Hogwarts, Hallows and Hufflepuff, must read like utter Gobbledegook. Should that be the case, and it is certainly no fault of mine or director David Yates’, I offer this series of retrospectives, links to the rentable film series and the novels before them. One decade on this is our world, just as you wouldn’t tune into the last episode of Lost and expect it to play like the first.

If you’ve stuck with the series, literary or cinematic, endured the duff notes on and off the big screen and embraced the wizarding world, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I did all the leg work, getting us just where we needed to be. My reservations regarding the previous film’s end-point proved ill-conceived, a quick session of plot 101 and we’re good to go, the momentum left to build until we’re veritably hurtling towards the finale. This is the shortest Potter movie of the lot and it certainly feels it, with little water left to tread we all too soon find ourselves back in Hogwarts, the end achingly nigh.

To say I cried at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II would be an understatement of towering proportions. The biggest compliment I can bestow on this final chapter is that it hit me like a bat-bogey hex. It is testament to not only the work of Yates and his team of filmmakers – Alexandre Desplat, I love you – but the underestimated talents of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint that a story so high on silly should deliver an emotional punch of such ruthless affect. Both in its epic grandiosity and its treatment of reconciliation and tragedy, the film positively brims with emotional resonance.

If you are devastated at the sight of death, touched by the respect of what came before – CORNISH PIXIES! – or humoured by the richness of character (Helena Bonham Carter was born to do Emma Watson impressions), it is unlikely you will enjoy a more fulfilling experience this year. Already likable presences, Harry, Ron and Hermione now have complete dominion over your affections, whether you have read the books are aware of their fates or have simply followed the actors this far, the bond of their friendship is one of the most moving fictional relationships imaginable. While some characters might not achieve the life – or death – that they deserve, the treatment of the central trio is nothing short of perfection.

This is ultimately Harry’s story, however, and while a certain kiss might warm the cockles of your heart it is Radcliffe’s journey that will set them on fire. The depth of character is simply astounding, Rowling’s creation brought to life by an actor who – once upon a time – could barely rub his scarred forehead with much conviction. That he even survives the appallingly misjudged prologue – every bit as cringeworthy as it is in the novel – with his dignity intact just goes to show what majesty Radcliffe has over his character.

That this much nuance and character development is achieved in the shadow of a bombastic pyrotechnic or rampaging giant just serves to illustrate the richness of texture. This is a war movie and it delivers incredible bang for its buck. As a camera tracks our heroes’ movements around the castle, in and out of crumbling corridors and over bloodied corpses, the background detail truly astonishes. The escape from Gringotts – already a impressive spectacle in its own right – pales in comparison to the battle of Hogwarts, so awash is it with familiar faces, breathtaking action and proclivity for surprise. While J. K. Rowling’s blueprints serve the story well, Yates’ eye for an arresting set piece works the material beautifully, finding a new – but forever faithful – alchemy of his own.

I honestly couldn’t have asked for more – well, I suppose I could have but that would just be ungrateful – Yates delivering a movie which honours the past, respects the books and finally gives Alan Rickman something to do other than spout elocution lessons.  As we leave Hogwarts for the last time – awash with rubble and barely recognisable – it is with the utmost closure on what really has been the motion picture event of a generation.


Hogwarts Revisited – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

On the fifteenth of July, 2011, the highest grossing film franchise ever will finally come to an end. Spanning ten years, eight movies, four directors and a worldwide box-office gross of over six billion dollars – the Harry Potter film franchise will draw to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, as Harry faces off against He Who Must Not Be Named for the very last time.

So, without further ado, previously on Harry Potter…

Voldermort is making his presence felt, not only in the wizarding world but with the violent destruction of London’s Millennium Bridge. Returning to Hogwarts, even Professor Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) ability to protect his students is drawn into question when a series of attempts on the headmaster’s life backfire on the school’s student body. Convinced that it is Malfoy (Tom Felton) who is behind the attacks, having seen him inspecting a vanishing cabinet at Borgin and Burkes, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has a hard time convincing his friends that Malfoy might be given such an important assignment by Voldermort. Dumbledore, meanwhile, is far more concerned with teaching Harry a proper subject for once: history.

Using a Pensieve to share a series of memories with Harry, Dumbledore is troubled by a memory sourced from the new Defence of the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). Tasked with retrieving the unedited memory from Slughorn, Harry uses his fame to infiltrate his teacher’s self-important Slug Club. Discovering that Tom Riddle was looking to split his soul across seven items – and certain that he may have succeeded – Dumbledore takes Harry to the alleged site of one of these Horcuxes with the intention of destroying it like Harry destroyed the diary and he himself had destroyed the ring. Escaping with it to Hogwarts, Harry is shown to have been right as Malfoy ambushes Dumbledore with a series of Death Eaters, killing him.

David Yates, only the second director to return for another glass of Polyjuice Potion, picks up where he left off with the celebratory cries of Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) ringing through the opening sequence, having just murdered her cousin. Haunting and evocative, the echoes of Order of the Phoenix immediately invoke the oppressive atmosphere invoked by the end of the previous movie. From this point on, Yates does his best to balance the impending darkness with a cavalier portrayal of teenage life – namely through his focus on “sex, potions and rock and roll”. It is a winning duality, providing our best insight yet into the central trio’s core relationship.

The soap operatics work beautifully, as Grint and Watson are finally given more to do that mug and scowl respectively. Their growing jealousy of one another provides a nice escape from the impending sense of doom, each student allowed to mature into young adults in a way that feels remarkably organic and within character. Radcliffe is exceptional in a role that finally allows him to stretch his funny bone, the scene in which he mourns the death of Hagrid’s (Robbie Coltrane) pet acromantula while high on liquid luck really endears the character in a much more engaging way than previously attempted. It is the scenes set across The Tree Broomsticks and Slug Club gatherings that really impress, however, with the sexual politics and maturing inter-relationships fleshing out the friendship in a way that expertly ups the stakes for the coming war. You really start to fear for the characters.

It isn’t just Radcliffe, Watson and Grint that impress, however, with the franchise continuing to introduce interesting new characters even at this late stage in the game. Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) and Cormac McLaggen (Freddie Stroma) both provide winning comic relief as differentially successful love interests for Ron and Hermione respectively. Jim Broadbent, meanwhile, is marvelously mistrustful as the new potions master (Snape has finally claimed the Defence Against the Dark Arts position), Professor Slughorn. With the exception of a few early duff notes from Michael Gambon’s Albus Dumbledore (come on Professor, try!), it is quite amazing just how solid the performances have become.

David Yates’ relatively gung-ho approach to the script does begin to grate, however, with a number of key scenes dropped in favour of a needless, invented-just-for-the-movie scene in which The Burrow is inexplicably destroyed by Death Eaters. Citing a concern for repetitiveness, Yates even went so far as to remove the final battle – quite despite the fact that the decision to split the final film in two would end the next film on a different note entirely. Whether because of my general disregard of the sixth book (goodbye and good riddance to Harry’s belly-monster) or the wealth of consolation on offer, however, I’m more forgiving of Half-Blood Prince than I am of Order of the Phoenix. Subjective, yes, but this is a retrospective.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, then, is the perfect quasi-penultimate instalment. The calm before the storm, it really is an absolute pleasure to spend some quality time with Rowling’s extraordinary creations before they depart on their crusade against Voldermort’s scattershot soul. With Nicholas Hooper returning to score the film – his enchanting Dumbledore’s Army theme thankfully in tow – and boasting the awesome cinematography of one Bruno Delbonnel (the pensieve-set scenes are a work of art), this really is family entertainment at its best.

Hogwarts Revisited – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

On the fifteenth of July, 2011, the highest grossing film franchise ever will finally come to an end. Spanning ten years, eight movies, four directors and a worldwide box-office gross of over six billion dollars – the Harry Potter film franchise will draw to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, as Harry faces off against He Who Must Not Be Named for the very last time.

So, without further ado, previously on Harry Potter…

Using Cedric Diggory’s death as an excuse to plant one of their own in Hogwarts, The Ministry of Magic exerts its influence over the school with the instigation of Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as High Inquisitor. Convinced that Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) has not in fact returned and that Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) was lying in an attempt to undermine the minister, Cornelius Fudge – through the Daily Prophet – has begun a smear campaign aimed at sullying the names of the headmaster and his poster boy, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). When Umbridge bans the use of spells in lessons, fearful that Dumbledore is trying to amass and train an army, Harry must take matters in his own hands if he is to prepare his classmates for the Dark Lord’s return. Dubbing themselves Dumbledore’s Army, Harry and his peers use the castle’s Room of Requirement to train themselves in an array of useful spells.

Caught in the act by Umbridge, Dumbledore takes the blame for the organization and escapes arrest leaving the High Inquisitor in charge. Envisioning his godfather Sirius’ (Gary Oldman) capture and torture at the hands of Voldermort, Harry convinces Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) to accompany him to London to rescue him. Stopped again by Umbridge, threatened with the Cruciatus Curse if he doesn’t come clean about his plans, Harry and Hermione conspire to lead her into the Forbidden Forest under the pretense of showing her Dumbledore’s “secret weapon”. Instead leading her to Hagrid’s enormous half-brother, Grawp, they escape back to the castle where they regroup with Ron and Ginny (Bonnie Wright), along with Neville (Matthew Lewis) and Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch). Arriving at the Ministry only to discover Harry’s visions a ruse, the students are ambushed by Death Eaters, who need Harry in order to retrieve a prophesy for Voldermort. Saved by Dumbledore and the newly reformed Order of the Phoenix, a force for good which fought Voldermort the last time he rose to power,  there is no longer any denying that Voldermort is back and more powerful than ever.

Having inherited the thickest book in the series when Mike Newell left after Goblet of Fire, David Yates was left no option but to trim everything but the core narrative, laving Steve Kloves’ temporary replacement as screenwriter Michael Goldenberg no option but to rise to the challenge. Gone is Lockheart’s cameo (and the subsequent introduction to Neville’s parents), the Quibbler subplot and much of the finale, with Yates ultimately responsible for one of the most abridged adaptations of the series.  However, although I may be more disappointed than most to see these scenes go – Order of the Pheonix will always be my favourite book – even I have to admit that the resultant movie isn’t a total disaster.

Imelda Staunton is absolutely phenomenal as Delores Umbridge, proving every bit as hateful and churlish as Rowling’s written equivalent. Dressed entirely in pink and with a monstrous mean-streak, Umbridge’s brand of subdued villainy is a welcome alternative to Voldermort’s maniacal evil. When Voldermort does enter the fray, however, he doesn’t disappoint, no small feat considering the excellent handling of his introduction in Goblet of Fire. The climactic battle between Dumbledore and Voldermort is absolutely breathtaking, the increased roles enjoyed by the supporting cast finally giving them something to get their teeth – and wand arms – into.

Daniel Radcliffe meanwhile has the difficult task of treading teenage angst without stumbling into more arrogant or petulant territory. Considering just how unlikeable Harry could have appeared, it is to the actor’s credit that he never lets the hormones win. He duly rises to the role of mentor, the scenes set in the Room of Requirement steeped in authority and control – his kiss with Cho Chang beautifully handled as mistletoe springs from the ceiling. Cheesy, yes, but undeniably sweet and charming too. Quizzed on the experience by Ron and Hermione, it is genuinely delightful to take a moments break from the action and exposition to glimpse just why these three people have stuck together despite the considerable danger their friendship puts them in.

With war looming the wizarding world really comes into its own. While Luna’s unique brand of comic relief ensures that it’s not all doom and gloom, the introduction of Bellatrix LeStrange and the reformation of the Order of the Phoenix really example the depth and intricacy of Rowling’s extraordinary vision. Bonham Carter’s stunning performance – particularly the scene in which she greets Neville Longbottom almost as an old friend (she tortured his parents into insanity) – really forces you to sit up and take stock of the mythology’s burgeoning maturity. The last act’s infamous fatality – and the devastating effect it has on Harry – is so fraught with emotion that it is easy to forget that this is a saga that started out with Nimus 2000s and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.

While I might gripe at a few duff notes from Kathryn Hunter’s Mrs. Figg, a heavily abridged finale which leaves most with little to do and – in my opinion – the miscasting of Evanna Lynch as Loopy Lovegood, these are the arbitrary complaints of a fastidious fanboy. What David Yates has done – and will continue to do throughout the rest of his tenure as director – is take the phenomenal foundations laid by Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell and build an immersive experience the likes of which have rarely been seen. Despite whatever acting shortcomings, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson have become their characters, and it’s fantastic to see how the trio might interact when they’re not sitting in class or dodging three-headed dogs.

Hogwarts Revisited – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

On the fifteenth of July, 2011, the highest grossing film franchise ever will finally come to an end. Spanning ten years, eight movies, four directors and a worldwide box-office gross of over six billion dollars – the Harry Potter film franchise will draw to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, as Harry faces off against He Who Must Not Be Named for the very last time.

So, without further ado, previously on Harry Potter…

Returning to Hogwarts after attending the Quiddich World Cup with the Weasleys, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is looking forward to a year without incident. With Hogwarts hosting the Triwizard Tournament, the school welcomes students from the Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbatons Academy of Magic for the duration of the competition. When the time comes to appoint each school’s competitor, however, Harry’s name is called as an unexpected fourth contender. Acting as a binding magical contract, Harry has no option but to enter the competition and compete with the other, older and more experienced students.

Jealous of Harry’s apparently endless fame, Ron (Rupert Grint) severs ties with The Boy Who Lived and refuses to aid him in the tournament, forcing Hermione “I’m not an owl” Granger (Emma Watson) into the unfortunate role of intermediary. Left to overcome a dragon, navigate a lake-full of merpeople and beat his competition to the centre of an enchanted maze, Harry nevertheless succeeds in making it to the Triwizarding cup first. Deciding to share his success with fellow Hogwarts competitor – Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) – they are unexpectedly transported to an unfamiliar graveyard. Revealed to be the doing of one of Voldermort’s (Ralph Fiennes) Death Eaters, Harry watches as Cedric is murdered and his own blood taken to resurrect the Dark Lord. Escaping back to Hogwarts with Cedric’s body, it is discovered that that new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Alistair Moody (Brendan Gleeson), had been kidnapped prior to the onset of the school and replaced by a Death Eater in disguise tasked with leading Harry to the Dark Lord.

Mike Newell took over from Alfonso Cuarón for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, his desire to make a traditional British boarding school movie bringing a new flavour to Hogwarts. Cutting out more subplots than ever before – the Quiddich World Cup is introduced but never shown while Hermione’s S.P.E.W. crusade is dropped entirely – the Goblet of Fire often feels rushed and incomplete. Required to introduce an unwieldy number of new characters as a result of the Triwizarding tournament, a number of the film’s cast are sidelined almost completely to make room, this being the first film to skip Harry’s summer vacation at the Dursley’s.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire still has a lot going for it however, the Triwizarding tournament paving the way for some of the franchise’s most thrilling sequences to date. While it has been largely trivial uses of magic which have impressed to date – an enchanted car here, some vanishing glass there – Newell’s fourth instalment provides our first indication of exactly what wizards are capable of. The dragon chase is spectacular, while the underwater sequences are quite simply breathtaking. Furthermore, the inclusion of the Yule Ball casts each of the three friends in a new light, the social awkwardness and teenage hangups proving welcomingly familiar in a world of exploded aunts and talking fireplaces. It is the final reveal of Voldermort which impresses most, however, with Ralph Fiennes breathing some real menace into the character, a brilliantly creepy (and noseless) embodiment of pure evil.

It is testament to Newell – and, by extension, Rowling too – that four movies in the franchise still proves so awe-inspiringly magical. As the winged horses carrying the Beaubaton students glide into view, the boat housing the Durmstrang pupils rises from the depths of the Black Lake and Mad Eye Moody hoists himself into the Hogwarts grounds, Newell’s eye for the epic really comes to the fore. While Fiennes’ introduction of Voldermort is undoubtedly the performance of a half-life, it was Miranda Richardson’s turn as the slimy-sexy Rita Skeeter that really left my inner fanboy aflutter. Tragically left out of the following film, Skeeter is everything I wanted her to be and more.

With so much ultimately lost in translation, Newell’s Goblet of Fire is the easy target for criticism. Frenetic, informal and lovingly lensed – I mean, it’s utterly gorgeous – however, the film serves its purpose in the franchise with such gusto that one small Quiddich World Cup seems a small price to pay. It really is to the credit of producer David Heyman that each new director – a variable about to settle with the arrival of David Yates – has managed to bring something new and important to the franchise. In Newell’s case, that something is a truly iconic villain, the creation of which will undoubtedly stand the test of time as one of cinema’s best.

Hogwarts Revisited – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

On the fifteenth of July, 2011, the highest grossing film franchise ever will finally come to an end. Spanning ten years, eight movies, four directors and a worldwide box-office gross of over six billion dollars – the Harry Potter film franchise will draw to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, as Harry faces off against He Who Must Not Be Named for the very last time.

So, without further ado, previously on Harry Potter…

With a year of wizarding school under his belt, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is enjoying the spoils of his newfound fame and fortune – namely a whole bedroom to himself – when he meets with the unfortunate assistance of self-flagellating house-elf Dobby. Unable to access the Hogwarts Express via Platform 9 3/4, Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint) are left with many sane choices but opt to take Mr. Weasley’s flying car to school anyway, accidentally crashing into the schools whomping willow and breaking Ron’s wand in the process. With celebrity Gilderoy Lockheart (Kenneth Branagh) replacing Professor Quirrell as the school’s Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, a new mystery soon unfolds  – what exactly is the eponymous Chamber of Secrets?

Something is stalking the corridors of Hogwarts, petrifying anyone unlucky enough to get in its way. With Hermione (Emma Watson) soon out of action and Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) mysteriously missing, Harry learns of the Chamber’s location from the ghost of the creatures previous victim, Moaning Myrtle, and takes Ron and Lockheart to stop the creature before it can strike again. When Lockheart reveals himself to be a fraud and attempts to steal the glory from Harry using Ron’s broken wand, the spell backfires leaving Lockheart amnesic and Harry alone. Identifying Tom Riddle – Voldermort’s younger self, acting through an old diary – as the mastermind behind the Basilisks attacks, Harry slays the beast and destroys the book ending the spell and saving Ginny from her deathly fate.

Columbus returns for his second – and final – take on the Potter saga, delivering another faithful and assured adaptation in the process. A year older and without the benefit of the first movie’s novelty, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson’s thespian shortcomings come to the fore, exemplified in contrast to the talent occupying the film’s many supporting roles. Chamber of Secret’s also heralds in some of the franchises other trademarks, beginning the series’ ongoing pursuit of darkness while also boasting a winning sense of humour.

Although still bloated and overlong, this first sequel successfully irons out a few of Philosopher Stone’s primary flaws. Whereas the first film’s Quiddich sequence was relatively staid and unexciting, the effects have developed to a point where the game does justice to the wizarding sport. Similarly Dobby – although likened by some to the Phantom Menace’s Jar Jar Binks – is a welcome addition to the series, Toby Jones’ voicework really bringing the character to life. It is Jason Isaacs’ Lucius Malfoy who really steals the show, however, as Draco’s softly spoken but endlessly menacing father.

Currently the 21st highest-grossing film ever made, and the first film to sell one million DVDs in its opening weekend in the U.K., Columbus was clearly doing something right. Having picked a a name less alien to American audiences, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets also overcome the first film’s identity crisis, with the cast no longer having to worry about filming some scenes twice. Foreshadowing future instalments – particularly Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – with the introduction of Aragog and the destruction of Tom Riddles diary, revisiting the Chamber of Secrets is a truly portentous joy.